But seriously, it’s not that bad! The significance of Deepavali/Diwali varies across the Subcontinent. In some parts, it’s the biggest festival of the year and it marks the New Year. In parts of the South though, while it’s still one of the key festivals, the biggest one of the year is Pongal, a harvest festival in January (and there’s a separate New Year in April). Kind of makes sense – in tropical dry climates, light and warmth are important, whereas in tropical wet climates where rice grows, harvest is really important. And Deepavali/Diwali has probably acquired its international stature by virtue of being the highest common factor among the Indian diaspora.
I admit that, reading Cinnamon’s post, the point at which I started feeling sad about having missed Deepavali was when I got to the kaju katli. It reminded me of going to Drummond Street last year, to source some Indian sweets for a Deepavali gathering I was having at home. The sweet shop was full of jelabees, jhangiri, halwa, cashew burfi, milk burfi, samosas and pakoras. There was something really warm and satisfying about buying sweets for family and friends coming home. It feels even better when you make something too. And here is a recipe for the sweet pongal I made last year, if anyone’s up for trying an Indian rice pudding!
1. Cook 1 cup of uncooked white rice with 3 cups of water. (I used brown rice for the health kick, but then you’ll need more water.)
2. Cook ½ cup of uncooked yellow dhal with 1 cup of water.
3. Once rice and dhall are cooked, mix the two together over a medium flame and add a few tablespoons of palm sugar to taste. (I found palm sugar crystals in the supermarket, but palm sugar syrup from an Asian supermarket might be a more fragrant choice.)
4. Add ½ a cup of milk to the mixture and stir. If the mixture looks too thick, add more milk. (Use full fat milk, not skimmed milk like I did…) Keep stirring so that the milk doesn’t burn. Add a pinch of salt.
5. Meanwhile, in a separate pan, fry the following in some ghee or butter: a handful of cashew nuts, sultanas, 2 or 3 cardamom pods (crushed) and a few strands of saffron. Add this to the rice/dhall mixture.
6. Keep stirring the mixture, adding milk as needed. After about 30 minutes it should thicken (and resemble a rice pudding).